Bulls

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jimmy Butler and the Bulls square off against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jimmy Butler and the Bulls square off against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder

On the latest installment of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh (Chicago Tribune) and Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) to preview Monday's Bulls matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

The panel also breaks down the NFL Wild Card weekend and debate whether Odell Beckham, Jr. deserves criticism for his boat party a week before the Giants' loss to the Packers. 

Finally, the crew looks at the Clemson-Alabama National Championship Game. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: 

Season in Review: Antonio Blakeney had the Mamba Mentality

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Antonio Blakeney had the Mamba Mentality

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter  | Wayne Selden | Zach LaVine

Preseason expectations: Like most of the end-of-the-bench Bulls, Antonio Blakeney’s role became much larger with the injuries to Denzel Valentine, Kris Dunn and even Bobby Portis. It moved everyone up on the depth chart across the board, and that included Blakeney.

The expectations were simple because of what Blakeney is: a scorer. Good nights would include games where his midrange jumper was falling, and bad ones would be obvious quickly. Then again, the Bulls liked what they saw in his impressive Summer League by giving him guaranteed money on a two-year deal.

What went right: Well, he did provide a scoring punch on occasion. Blakeney topped the 14-point mark eight different times in 2019 and did so in pretty efficient fashion – he shot 50 percent or better in six of those eight games. Blakeney had a knack for reeling off a few makes in a row to help the Bulls in spurts. Of course they happened few and far between, but we’d be remiss not to mention that a hot Blakeney was a really good Blakeney.

What went wrong: A whole lot. On the surface you’ll see that Blakeney shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. In reality, much of that damage came early in the season. In a five-game stretch in late October he made 14 of 22 triples. The rest of the season he was 22 of 69 (31.8%) and just 15.8 percent from March 1 until the end of the season. He couldn’t top 42 percent from the field and provided very little in the way of passing, rebounding or defense. The Bulls needed Blakeney to provide a scoring punch, and in early November it looked like he might be a surprise. It was a mirage.

The Stat:  432 to 396

It was something we followed all season long but Blakeney ultimately finished the year with more passes (432) than field goal attempts (396). But only barely.

2019-20 Expectations: If the Bulls opt to keep Blakeney and his guaranteed money, he’ll be an end-of-the-bench player without much of a role. Denzel Valentine will be back, the Bulls should add another backcourt player in the draft – with either pick – and Chandler Hutchison will be healthy to give the Bulls more depth. This was Blakeney’s best shot to prove he belongs in the NBA and he did very little with the opportunity.

Why the Bulls should take Carsen Edwards with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Carsen Edwards with the No. 38 pick

 

Carsen Edwards figures to be one of the more polarizing prospects in the late-first round to second round range of the 2019 NBA Draft. Generously listed at 6-foot-1 and (a much more accurate) 200 lbs., the diminutive guard burst onto the national scene after his super-hot scoring stretch during the NCAA Tournament.

He is an extremely talented scoring guard and his track record is impressive. He averaged double-digit scoring figures all three years of his NCAA career and helped Purdue rack up an 83-25 win-loss record over that same span.

Strengths:

Edwards is an elite volume scorer. He maintained a huge usage rate over three years at Purdue, including a 37.3 percent mark for the 2018-19 season. Matt Painter entrusted Edwards with the lion’s share of the Boilermakers’ offense every season of his career, and he stepped up to the challenge.

His finished his career with a 109.8 offensive rating, scoring 35.6 points per 100 possessions. The ability to score efficiently with high volume is the true mark of someone capable of being a star on offense.

The shooting is first thing that jumps off the page with Edwards. He has career averages of 7.1 3-point attempts per game on 36.8 percent. He would be a huge upgrade for a Bulls team that was 27th in 3-point attempts and dead-last in 3-point makes in the 2018-19 season.

If you watch film of Edwards, the high-degree of difficulty on his shots stand out. He can get downhill and draw attention at the rim, opening up shooters on the perimeter. Edwards’ confidence in his pull-up 3-point shot helped Purdue finish with one of the best offenses in the nation and also made the Boilermakers must-see TV.

Purdue was a good defensive team over Edwards’ three years there and while he wasn’t the best defender, he finished his career with 2.3 steals per 100 possessions. He gives great effort when trying to deny passes and has enough strength to hold his ground long enough to allow the help defense to come over.

Most of Edwards value in the NBA will come from his immense scoring ability. But his playmaking potential is intriguing because he became a better passer each year at Purdue, while having a bigger burden placed on him than he will in the NBA.

We know Edwards is very confident and competitive, he can shoot the 3-ball, and he is gradually improving as a playmaker. Any lineups containing Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Edwards would likely struggle on defense, but also would be full of effective 3-point shooters, a rarity for any Bulls lineup this season.

Weaknesses:

Though strong for his position, Edwards is 6-feet tall without shoes and is not going to be able to excel in a switching defense. And when his team is playing traditional defense, Edwards will need to do a lot work on fighting through screens.

NBA offenses will hunt for Edwards when he is on the floor. And a player who will need to be hid on defense will obviously cause issues for a Bulls teams without a lot of places to hide.

Though this is the weaknesses section, I would be remiss not to mention that Edwards should be able to not be awful on defense as long as he gives absolute, maximum effort. But we’ve seen what can happen to small guards on defense with today’s screen-happy game, and those flaws would be exposed even more in the postseason, which is one of the primary goals of the 2019-20 Bulls.

The Bulls do need a guard, but they need a point guard who can effective run the offense and generate great looks for others. Meanwhile, Edwards is more a shoot-first, undersized shooting guard than he is a point. In the 2018-19 season he finished with 104 assists and 113 turnovers.

He and fellow Purdue guard Ryan Cline actually shared playmaking duties during the 2018-19 season. Despite playing 52 more minutes than Cline on the season, Edwards finished with 16 less total assists.

The fact that Edwards carried the offense on his back means that a high-turnover rate isn’t the worst thing in the world. But his assist to turnover ratio is worrisome for a player who relies so much on of the dribble scoring. Edwards is a smart player who is confident and talented enough to takeover games with his offense, but that same confidence is what results in Edwards occasionally shooting his team out of games.

Long term outlook:

As a three-year NCAA veteran, Edwards is capable of being a solid backup PG in the NBA right now. His explosive display of offense during the NCAA Tournament could result in him rising into the bottom half of the first round, as there are always teams looking to add shooting. But most NBA front offices and their scouts don’t fall victim to recency bias.

So while the NCAA Tournament run helped his stock, his size and lack of defensive upside make him an excellent second round prospect, with the potential to develop into a steal if drafted in that range. If he slips to No. 38 in the draft, the Bulls would likely be more than happy to add Edwards 3-point shooting and high-scoring ability in to their backcourt mix.